Americans love symbols of patriotism. Seeing an American flag, or hearing the "Stars and Stripes Forever" puts them in a good mood, generally. By contrast, seeing symbols of hatred like a swastika elicits revulsion. In recent years, conservatives in particular have taken these gut feelings and used them to their political advantage, to the point of the ridiculous. As the mid-term elections approach, the Republican Party has decided to avoid intelligent discussion of ideas in favor of emotional images that provoke angry voters to the ballot box. They hope this pull is powerful enough to win them back Congress.
Take their latest outrage against Barack Obama: he hiked in Maine with his family and stopped at the Mount Desert Island Ice Cream Shop in Bar Harbor. Their logo is of a raised fist holding a spoon with the slogan "Fearless flavor" under their name. Right-wing bloggers looked at the fist and saw an "uncanny" resemblance to a raised fist that is associated most famously with the black power movement.
The bloggers took this "resemblance" to prove Obama's black nationalism who hates whitey blah blah blah. This story came out after Fox News hyped a story about the New Black Panther Party, so this story fit neatly with the conspiracy narrative of the moment. Never mind that the fist on the ice cream shop is a right hand and the raised fist used by the black power movement is a raised left hand.
Pushers of other Obama conspiracies have seen the invisible writing in symbols. In February 2010, the new logo of the Missile Defense Agency was revealed, and Frank Gaffney, who has written a number of times about how Obama might be a Muslim, wrote this:
"Team Obama's anti-anti-missile initiatives are not simply acts of unilateral disarmament of the sort to be expected from an Alinsky acolyte. They seem to fit an increasingly obvious and worrying pattern of official U.S. submission to Islam and the theo-political-legal program the latter's authorities call Shariah.
What could be code-breaking evidence for this explanation is to be found in the newly-disclosed redesign of the Missile Defense Agency logo. As Logan helpfully shows, the new MDA shield appears ominously to reflect a morphing of the Islamic crescent and star with the Obama campaign logo."
So of course, based on this symbolic action, Obama is a Muslim. Never mind that the Missile Defense Agency logo is red and blue, while an Islamic half-crescent is white and green. Most recently, the logo for Recovery.gov was compared to Obama's 2008 campaign logo even though they don't look anything alike, except that their both circular.
And need we forget the obsession with Barack Obama's lack of a flag pin? Or his hatred of America because he didn't put his hand on his heart during the pledge of allegiance - even though the photo evidence was taken during the national anthem?
Then there's my personal favorite: The Obama administration shouldn't prosecute Bush administration officials who approved things like torture or taking the nation to war on false pretenses. Why? It would look political. The political fallout for Democrats would be bad. And unfortunately, it looks like the administration and their allies in Congress are listening to that advice. Never mind that the previous administration committed war crimes and approved of acts that are banned under both US and international law. It's "looking apolitical" that's more important.
All of these symbolic "coincidences" are used as evidence of a larger conspiracy: Obama being a Muslim, or being a black nationalist, or hating America.
These symbols are superficial. They are meaningless in reality, but they have a strong emotional pull to some people. And that emotional potency is enough for the rodeo clowns of the right-wing provocateurs.